To Avoid Future Peril: Signs, Portents, and Prophecy in the Carolingian World (ca. 771-840)

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Sorber, Andrew, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kershaw, Paul, AS-History, University of Virginia

This dissertation analyzes the appropriation of divine authority and affirmation in Carolingian politics between 771 and 840, exploring several key questions about the perceived relationship between rulers, their realms, and God, as well as how God was understood, interpreted, and invoked politically. Such argumentation was understood as prophetic, since it relied upon claims to know God’s mind and will, whether through direct inspiration or through the interpretation of signs and portents. This study argues that in order to understand the widespread use of prophetic authority throughout ninth-century Carolingian political debates, one must appreciate its development during the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. These rulers and the intellectual culture they fostered set the tone and established the limits of how far one could go in invoking the will of God within Carolingian politics. This dissertation explores the experimentation with performative claims of divine approval, guidance, or inspiration at the rulers’ behest or in their names, and how such behavior created the perfect conditions for the use of prophetic claims to support and oppose the Carolingian political order. Offering further insight into motivations for the Carolingian reform movement, this study illuminates the fundamental importance of maintaining, and being seen to maintain, divine support within Frankish political thought. Only by understanding Charlemagne’s comparably reserved and cautious claims of divine guidance, and Louis’ desperate hunger for inspiration and divine direction, can one understand the dynamic transformation of political debate in the Frankish world in the ninth century.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Carolingian, Prophecy, Prophetic, Charlemagne, Louis the Pious, signs, portents
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